How can an organisation leverage social media in a public affairs campaign?

By Olivia Brennan, Dublin Office

According to Stasta, in 2016, the number of monthly active social network users in Ireland was 3.34 million users which accounts for 3 in every 5 Irish citizens. Social media allows organisations and policy makers to build their brand, shape the online debate, amplify key messages, engage with customers and other stakeholders and raise awareness on the policy topic in a timely manner.  There is a growing need to be part of an often public but essential conversation on policy and related issues through social media.

Before the Irish General Election campaign of 2016, political parties put little resources into online campaigning and after the ballots closed many of the candidate’s accounts went dormant.  However, it is now difficult to comprehend a politician in 2017 who is not active on at least Twitter or Facebook. In fact, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams joined Snapchat last week!   The Yes campaign during the Irish same-sex marriage referendum in 2015 and the #hometovote campaign proved that engaging online can help spread awareness and increase engagement with key stakeholders and has the potential to sway a campaign as well as help create media coverage and political discussion.

It might sound and look easy but creating a successful social media campaign takes time and work. You must target policy-makers from multiple approaches and make sure that your social media correlates to your offline public affairs efforts.  No presence on social media can in fact come across as unprofessional and therefore impact your reputation among stakeholders.

  • Before an account is created – you must develop clear, digestible key messages and statistics and translate them into infographics, catchy hashtags and snappy videos.  make sure you have clear organisational goals and objectives to which you can align your social media activity. There are many social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat to name a few but depending on the size of the organisation and the issue it might be necessary to be present on one or two.  It must then be decided who the social media targets and stakeholders are that you need to follow online.  The list will include policy makers, policy influencers (corporations, trade associations, NGOs), media and more.
  • Content is key – Posting PR material is not enough.  Organisations need to interact with those they reach and be able to use graphics and video.  Be proactive and present solutions to the issue.  It is also important to engage with followers which will help grow the accounts following.
  • Create the angle – When writing your content use a newsworthy angle. By tying it in to a wider story/policy issue more people will be made aware of what you want to say but make sure it is jargon-free and to-the-point.
  • Be persistent – Post regularly and target the decision makers.  If the right stakeholder hears the same message a number of times through different channels, they are more likely to listen.
  • Measurement and review – it is important to evaluate the effectiveness of the social media wing of the public affairs campaign every 4-6 weeks. This can be done by measuring page views, click-throughs, comments, retweets, likes, follows and tone of the engagement.

Overall, any effort to create awareness of an issue and influence policy requires one comprehensive approach that integrates strategy, tactics and techniques.  Social media is increasingly becoming a useful tool in disseminating key messages and solutions to a policy issue so it is important that it is integrated into the wider public affairs strategy.